Highway to Heaven was first major network series about angels, running from 1984-1989 and starring Michael Landon as Jonathan Smith, an angel on probation, and Victor French as his sidekick Mark Gordon. Their role is to help their assigned humans overcome their problems. After the show went dark in 1989, when there was nothing much about angels on television for five years. Then came Touched by an Angel.
The popular series Touched by an Angel purports to be “where entertainment meets spirituality.” Over nine years that it ran, on CBS, under producer Martha Williamson, the show gave viewers a consistent message: you are loved by God. It professed no particular religious affiliation and the angels were shown helping people of various faiths, of no faith, and with various predicaments, often of their own making.
The theme song set the tone: “as you walk down the road, heavy burden, heavy load, I will rise and I will walk with you…” It was sung by Della Reese, who starred, with Roma Downey, as one of the two main angels. With the exception of one stunning episode, Fear Not, angels only revealed themselves quietly to the individual to whom they were assigned.
We applaud the Touched By An Angel series for tackling some thorny issues, always with compassion. The first season alone, they took many of society’s hardest problems and helped us face them.
- Homelessness – Episode 111, There, But for the Grace of God, with guest star Gregory Harrison as Pete. Monica realizes she’s stood in judgement on the homeless, and after a prayer she washes his feet.
- Alcoholism – Episode 104, Tough Love. Phylicia Rashad as a journalist with a drinking problem that nearly destroys her family.
- Infidelity – Episode 107, An Unexpected Snow. Two women are involved with the same man.
- Anger after Divorce – Episode 113, Angels On the Air. A radio personality for whom everything is grist for ratings, even her teen.
- Cost of Secrets – Episode 109, The Hero. A son goes down dark roads because he feels he cannot live up to his father’s expectations, but his father has a secret.
The show was so successful, it lasted for nine seasons, ending with a two-part episode set in the same town as a number of previous episodes, including Fear Not, a favorite of a majority of viewers. Hats off to Touched by an Angel: to Martha Williamson for keeping it “on message,” to the cast and crew for consistently delivering, and to CBS for airing it.
Another, very different approach was taken with the series Saving Grace, which aired from 2007 to 2010. A “last chance angel” visits jaded Oklahoma City police detective, giving her the chance to redeem her life. The series is definitely not suitable for young children; there is language, sex, and violence, as well as deep psychic pain, in every episode. But it is a captivating portrait of a struggle with faith, and, although the lead character is self-destructive – a promiscuous heavy smoker and drinker- she is also tender-hearted. Her last-chance angel, Earl, chews and spits tobacco, and occasionally loses his temper, but displays a charming sense of humor. To make things more interesting, Earl is also the last-chance angel of other characters in the series, including an inmate on death row and a young woman who is battling addictions. The series leaves open the question of various approaches to understanding of God, and the Bible is directly quoted only in two episodes: Season 1, Episode 4 about a devout Christian crime witness has Earl quote Proverbs 9:10; Season 3, Episode 19, Ham quotes Peter 5:8-9: “Be sober minded be watchful your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour.”
No doubt, our fascination with angels will bring another series our way. Will it be uplifting and heartwarming, or gut-wrenching and soul-searching? Either way, we look forward to being able to update this page.